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Cruachan power station to get £1m upgrade

An employee working inside Cruachan power station
An employee working inside Cruachan power station

Cruachan power station in Argyll is to undergo a £1 million upgrade.

Operator Drax Group said the hydroelectric plant, built in the early 1960s inside a hollowed-out mountain near Loch Awe, would benefit from a more modern turbine control system.

Existing equipment will be replaced by a newly designed computer system to “deliver efficiencies and keep the plant at the cutting edge of energy technology”.

Ian Kinnaird, head of hydro at Yorkshire-based Drax, said: “Cruachan plays a critical role in supporting renewable energy in Scotland and stabilising the electricity grid.

“As the country continues to decarbonise, the station’s flexibility has never been more important.

“This upgrade will ensure the ‘hollow mountain’ can deliver the fast, flexible power that hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses rely on for many decades to come.”

Control system builder ITI – with offices in Aberdeen, Bellshill, Warrington and Sheffield – will undertake the design, installation and commissioning of the upgrade across the power station’s four units. The three-year project will be run by a team of engineers based out of ITI’s Glasgow office.

ITI, formerly Servelec Controls, has a long history with Cruachan and other hydro assets which Drax owns and operates in Scotland.

The systems integration specialist installed the current turbine control system at Cruachan in 1987.

Control systems for Drax-operated hydro-electric schemes in central and south-west Scotland can be remotely managed, when needed, from Cruachan’s underground cavern.

ITI power and infrastructure sales director Bryn Thomas said: “We’ve been working at Cruachan power station for over 30 years now, and in that time have developed a deep understanding of assets, systems and operational requirements.

“It is these strong relationships with our customers that enable us to work with them on developing transformative solutions that enhance their operations, improve safety and support sustainable green energy production.”

Cruachan is one of only four pumped hydro storage stations in the UK and has a capacity of 440 megawatts – enough to power more than 90,000 homes.

The plant can generate power in less than a minute and also store excess electricity from the grid like a giant battery.

Its reversible turbines pump water from Loch Awe to an upper reservoir on the mountainside to store excess power from the grid.

The stored water is then released back through the turbines to generate power quickly and reliably when demand increases.

In July, Cruachan became the first power station in the UK to provide critical system support services to the National Grid as part of a world-first “stability” contract aimed at reducing the threat of blackouts.

Drax’s other assets include the UK’s largest power station at Selby, North Yorkshire, which supplies 5% of Britain’s electricity needs.

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